Successor Factions to the Islamic Courts Union

by Osman Yusuf, WW4 REPORT

The downfall of the Islamic militants who had control over most of south and central Somalia until late last year has created a power vacuum that the transitional government is not at present able to fill.

In several parts of the war ravaged nation, real political authority has fallen to clan leaders and revived clan militias, often comprised of the same gunmen who had served under the Islamic Courts Union. In many areas they remain the primary source of power.

This localized prototype of authority is not new to Somali’s rural communities. But the abrupt shift of power from the Courts to clan leaders has been more destabilizing in tense urban settings such as Mogadishu-where the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), backed up by Ethiopian and African Union troops, is attempting to impose direct rule.

The crumbling of the Courts Union, combined with the failure of the TFG to provide even a token administrative presence, has produced ideal conditions for the revival of armed criminality. Renewed sub-clan clashes in Mogadishu and south-central Somalia is seen as increasingly likely.

Observers on the scene say some members of the Islamic Courts Union may have transformed into a new organization called Shabaab, where youthful remnants of the Islamists are being trained for specialized tasks in the resistance within Mogadishu.

Shabaab means youth or young men in Arabic. Sources in Mogadishu say Shabaab is made up of young Islamic Courts supporters who have come of age in the ruthless and vicious reality of warlord Somalia. They are less educated and more rigid than the older clerics. They have had no formal jobs, apart from earning a living through using their guns to protect foreigners or fighting for those who can pay. The only piece of clothing that signifies their membership in Shabaab is a red scarf wrapped around the face and head, so they can rapidly disappear into the populace.

Sources, including a former leader of the Islamic Courts Union, also confide that the Shabaab’s commander is Aden Hashi Ayro, a young Somali said to have been trained in Afghanistan, believed to be in his late 20s or early 30s. Those close to Ayro describe him as the portrait of an intransigent young militant who is at odds with his own clan and bitter over foreign meddling in Somalia. A number of assassinations and massacres of foreigners in Somalia are attributed to him.

“This group of young men is very lethal,” said Osman Abdi, an activist who works with the Mogadishu-based Somali Human Rights Defenders. “They claim in statements that they are linked to the deposed Islamic Courts Union. They have posted a video massage on the ICU’s website,, late last month.”

Increased assassinations in Mogadishu in recent weeks have been blamed on the Islamists’ remnants, and mostly on Shabaab. The group has also threatened suicide attacks against the Ugandan AU peacekeepers that are now being deployed.

A Somali who recently fled the fighting to Nairobi reported that he witnessed a small Shabaab rally in Mogadishu, in which hooded men threatened to attack Ethiopian and Somali government troops in Somalia.” He echoed the street talk of the Shabaab’s formidable prowess. “They are very ruthless and relentless fighters who can scale walls and jump from moving trucks without dropping their weapons,” he said.

Other Somalis and analysts suspect Shabaab may have already mutated into another new organization, the Popular Resistance Movement in the Land of the Two Migrations (PRM).

“The Shabaab were elite members in the Islamic courts militia and collapsed as a group following the ousting of the courts,” says Abdurahman Warsame, a Mogadishu-based journalist who corresponds for foreign news agencies. “It is possible that this new group is the Shabaab in a new name, though that cannot be verified and the PRM has never stated that clearly.” He adds that the PRM claims responsibility for the near-daily attacks on Ethiopian and TFG troops.”

The PRM, formed in January, has posted a new warning against the peacekeepers. “We promise we shall welcome them with bullets from heavy guns, exploding cars and young men eager to carry out martyrdom operations against these colonial forces,” said a man appearing in a video posting on an Islamist website reading from a statement.

“The Ugandan troops and those from the other African states who are being sent to Somalia are in our eyes no better than the Ethiopians who are occupying our country by force,” said the statement signed by Harith Aba-Sadiq, “Organizer of Mogadishu People’s Resistance.”

“Somalia is not a place where you will earn a salary—it is a place where you will die. The salary you are seeking will be used to transport your bodies.”

The authenticity of the video, a replica of those released in Iraq and Afghanistan by Islamist insurgents, could not be independently verified. But the warning came as the first batch of peacekeepers from Uganda was to arrive in Mogadishu. They have already claimed responsibility for the March 12 attacks in which two Ugandan soldiers were injured when their convoy was ambushed while heading to a Mogadishu hotel at night.

Other groups which have claimed responsibility for attacks in Mogadishu since the fall of the Islamic Courts Union include Al-Harakah al-Muqawamah, Al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad Brigades, and al-Sha’biyah fi al-Bilad al-Hijratayn.

With 4,000 troops in the streets, backed up by Ethiopian and AU forces, it is fair to say the TFG remains in control of Mogadishu. But near-daily attacks from the Islamist resistance may prevent them from extending their rule to the rest of Somalia for a while to come.

Osman Yusuf is a freelance journalist based in Nairobi.

See also:

by Rohan Pearce, Green Left Weekly
WW4 REPORT #124, August 2006

From our weblog:

Somalia: 12,000 displaced by Mogadishu fighting
WW4 REPORT, March 30, 2007


Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, April 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution